To encourage interaction among Taiwanese and other Asian non-governmental organizations (NGOs), the first annual Asian NGO forum kicked off yesterday at the 228 Memorial Museum in downtown Taipei.
Addressing the representatives of 60 NGOs, 40 from Taiwan and 20 from eight other Asian countries, on the square in front of the 228 Memorial Museum, Taipei Mayor Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) delivered an opening speech on the purpose of the forum entitled, "Empowering Conference of Asia's NGOs in Taipei" (sic) (台北市第一屆亞洲區非政府組織博覽會). He spoke first in Mandarin and then in English.
"It may sound ironic to have a government hold the NGO forum this year. Our ultimate goal is to have an NGO hold the event next year and in many more years to come. We'd like to take the initiative with a view to forging common ground among Asian NGOs, where three-fifths of the world's NGOs are located, and hopefully, the event will serve as a seed alliance of Asian NGOs," Ma said.
The three-day event, which started yesterday and will run until tomorrow, is being held under the auspices of the city's Bureau of Civil Affairs (民政局) and is sponsored by, among many other governmental and non-governmental organizations, the Taipei 228 Memorial Museum and the Foundation for Social Transformation (社會發展文教基金會).
The forum focuses on nine major topics including community safety, urban transformation, women and gender, labor and youth outreach programs.
There are 60 booths outside the museum and the public is welcome to attend the speeches, forums, performances and documentary film screenings taking place inside the museum.
Director of the Bureau of Civil Affairs, Lin Cheng-hsiou (林正修), said the forum has two major purposes. "First of all, the Taipei City Government would like to team up with national and international NGOs to upgrade the city's quality of life and advance social stability and public welfare," he said. "Secondly, we hope to build a regional communication network within Asia and elsewhere in the world in the future to boost Taiwan's international image and political status."
Yesterday's activities covered five forums on humanitarian relief, foreign aid, art and music, community safety and youth outreach programs.
Damien Desjonqueres of Care France, keynote speaker at the forum "Current Debates in Humanitarian Relief Work" in the morning, introduced his organization and outlined an historical overview of international relief efforts, modern humanitarian actions and the challenges faced by NGOs.
Desjonqueres said what an NGO really needs, in addition to volunteers, is professionals, technicians and lobbyists who can help implement their projects and lobby for changes to existing systems.
Established in 1946, Care International is an international, non-sectarian NGO made up of 10 member states and operates in more than 70 countries.
It has roughly 10,000 employees worldwide and is dedicated to the provision of emergency disaster relief and long-term rehabilitation and development projects.
Desjonqueres said that international relief efforts can be traced back to the Bible, in which Saint Paul said, "Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal."
According to Desjonqueres, there are three major types of international NGOs: Anglo-Saxon NGOs such as the professional groups Care and Concern; the European NGOs such as the specialized groups Medecins Sans Frontieres and Medecins du Monde; and activists such as Greenpeace and Amnesty International.
The challenges lying ahead for NGOs include moving from a need-based approach to a rights-based one, upgrading professional quality, globalization and increasing public acceptance, he said.
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